Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass on Sunday pressed Governor Gavin Newsom to select Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) as an interim Senator if Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) chooses to retire, despite heavy opposition against such an appointment, from fellow Democrats and Republicans alike.
Since April, the Governor has faced growing pressure to have a replacement interim Senator at the ready in case of such a retirement from Feinstein, who missed around two months in the U.S. Senate earlier this year due to shingles and other serious health ailments. While she is back in Washington now, continued health worries have led to man to continue asking for her retirement ahead the end of her Senate term in January 2025.
However, for Newsom, he only has a narrow list of possible candidates due to severely limiting his number of possible choices a few years ago. In 2020, Newsom chose now-Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) to replace Kamala Harris, who had taken the job of Vice President. While Padilla was the first Latino man to become Senator from California, the selection distressed many African-American groups, who quickly pointed out that he did not replace the sole woman of color in the Senate with another. In response, Newsom vowed that, if Feinstein retires, he would pick a black woman to replace her.
With his promise now coming back on him, Newsom scrambled to get a shortlist together of names. These included Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, Secretary of State Shirley Weber, Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell, and Congresswoman Lee. However many, including Bass and Mitchell, have outright refused the interim appointment. Others later selected, including media mogul Oprah Winfrey, also refused. With so many names out, and a limited number of experienced black female political leaders in California, Newsom has faced an increasingly stressful possible decision.
All of the remaining candidates have baggage coming in as well: Breed’s extremely close ties with Newsom are suspect to many; Lee’s current candidacy for the 2024 U.S. Senate race is a giant of conflict of interest for many as her being named the interim Senator could unfairly give her a major bump of incumbency support, with the latest polls placing her as a distant third amongst Democratic candidates currently. Other candidates, like Weber, have simply remained non-committal, questioning if they want the short-term appointment as well. Talk of Newsom picking other than black women have only brought accusations that he will break his promise and “betraying” the demographic, potentially harming Newsom’s future runs for office.
Bass and Lee
With all this in place, Mayor Bass said on CNN on Sunday that Newsom should pick Lee, potentially giving the Bay Area Democrat a large boost for the Senate race. With Bass being one of the top black female lawmakers in the state, her support could also influence Newsom’s ultimate decision should it be needed.
“I absolutely think he should appoint Barbara Lee. But we will see,” said Bass in a CNN interview on Sunday. “With Feinstein still in office, it’s not an issue right now. That’s her decision. I worry about her. I worry about her health. But, ultimately, of course, that’s her decision to make.”
Bass’s support of Lee was challenged by many on Sunday and Monday.
“Newsom screwed himself with that promise,” noted Washington-based election advisor Stan Taney told the Globe on Monday. “Out of everyone left, Lee would be the most disastrous choice, as it would lead to an outcry that Newsom was trying to personally change the course of the 2024 Senate race. He could ask Lee to drop out, but that is another political grenade right there. Lee has just too much tied to her right now, so she’s out.”
“Breed? She’s Mayor of a city that has seen a huge rise of crime, drug-use, businesses leaving, and people leaving. The people in San Francisco might rejoice like the Munchkins when the witch was gone in Wizard of Oz if this happens, but she would also be bringing all of THAT into the Senate. Plus people would grill Newsom on that pick.”
“So there are really just either safe or unknown choices left like Weber, but even she has some baggage. Bass is influential, but it’s quite clear she just wants her close colleague in the position. Newsom is very much in a corner on this one, and privately he is probably hoping that he won’t need to make this decision and hopes that Feinstein makes it to the election, as he could then justify not making an interim pick, or just pick a placeholder Senator by then to gain some favor. If Lee is out of the race by then, then this opportunity presents itself. Newsom could also go on a more unusual choice for a few months like a Hollywood celebrity or even choosing someone out of left field like Labor laureate Dolores Huerta and giving it as a two-month sunset post.”
“In any case, eyes are on Newsom.”
As of Monday, Feinstein has shown no indication of resigning in the near future.
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